Category Archives: Ranch Life

Time to make a difference

Taxco, Mexico 2012. Jumping on an ATV I set my sights on Peru. Nearly four years later, 5000kms by ATV, 6000kms on horseback and after the most testing, rewarding and eye opening years of my life we are close to realising the goal. To make a difference.

I had previously reached out to children’s charities in each of the eleven countries I planned to pass through, hoping to volunteer with and raise funding for each of the chosen organisations. Never could I have hoped to connect with so many wonderful people or be fortunate enough to be given the opportunities handed to me. From seeing the courage of children born with HIV to having the honour of coaching disabled athletes aiming to compete for a place in the Paralympics.

Too much for one blog so we start at the beginning, Oaxaca, Mexico and my very first volunteer location.

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“Harold and Jodi Bauman founded Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots in 1996 supporting approximately seventy children. They soon realized that they could help even more children attend school if they formalized their initiative; with the help of others, they chartered Oaxaca Street Children Grassroots creating the child-sponsorship program. By the end of 1997, 148 children had found sponsors with the help of Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots. The number continues to climb, and today over 600 children have sponsors who support them through Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots and our Oaxacan center el Centro de Esperanza Infantil. Oaxaca Streetchildren Grassroots continues to serve as many of the poorest children as possible, children who otherwise, would never have the change to go to school.”

My time here set the tone for what was to follow, seeing the dedication of all involved in the project, no hidden agendas just a real desire to offer care and opportunity. I got to spend time teaching, cooking and visiting the homes of some of the children involved in the programme.

What next? With what has been raised and pledged so far we are looking to sponsor at least two children in each of the schools I got to work with. This will be just the beginning. Not just to make a one-off donation but begin what will be ongoing support. Also to provide a fee free volunteer placement service.  In the following weeks we shall be taking an in depth look at each organisation and what your support means and how you can continue to be involved, with an opportunity to see what this means through the years of each child’s education.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Volcanoes, open plains and rock wielding ladies

Heading on with real maps for the first time courtesy of a very generous friend we have been making good ground through incredible countryside, Ecuador truly is one of the most beautiful countries I have been lucky enough to visit, and the people so welcoming – except for the rock wielding old ladies ….. more to come on that.

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8 days ago we left Latacunga and the amazing hospitality of an incredible family. I got the chance to rest, this time was more for me than for Red as have been struggling with health issues the last 2 months, 8 months on the road and poor diet can take its toll on the body! I must say a huge thank you to all at El Picadero.

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Back in the saddle again and felt great, getting toward the end of the second day riding through a village of no more than 20 houses I hear somebody calling me “mister, mister” Normally would just ride on but stopped to see what the man wanted “are you the man riding to Peru?” he asks, little taken aback I spent some time talking to him, somehow word had got to this little village, I ended up spending the night with his family before heading on early. Over the last 8 nights have slept in the hammock, derelict buildings in run down areas on outskirts of towns, playgrounds, empty shacks 3700m up in the Andes and several fields, waking with Red led down sleeping next to me on more than one occasion, biting my beard, my hair and once with him stood on both of my feet – another 3 broken toes but if honest have never slept better.

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I am now riding the western side of the Andes, passing snow-capped volcanoes, thermal pools and nobody in sight. Feeling confident and with good maps I pushed further into the paramour. Riding though open plains I stop to soak it in, with a contentedness I have never before experienced, this journey is way more than I could have ever hoped for. Riding dirt tracks, no tracks and train tracks, everything but tarmac. Pulling up to a bakery in the mornings to the smell of fresh bread and getting served on the back of your horse is something else. Arriving in a small community I stopped to ask directions, I could not hear what the people were saying so rode a little closer, this seemed to upset them as the only Spanish-speaking member of the group shouted that I should leave now, that I need to be carefull as strangers are not welcome here, we argued for a little, pointing out that I purely wanted directions however when I noticed the crowd building and the little old ladies armed with rocks in their hands decided I would be ok without directions and galloped out of there. This would never change the way I feel about this beautiful country, in a way I can understand and respect them wanting to preserve their privacy. Just 24hrs before this I was invited into a stranger’s home, fed lunch and when I tried to leave was told would be rude to leave before dinner and should spend the night, should have skipped the dinner as was heart omelette but the sentiment was wonderful!

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I am now entering the final few weeks of the trip and with it facing the reality of parting ways with what has become my best friend. Am sure by now you would have figured out there is no way I could let Red go to anything but the perfect home and have been lucky enough to find that in the good people at El Picadero. We have been through a lot together, injuries, tough roads, amazing highs, formed a bond that I can draw no comparison to. He has saved my skin several times and like to think have given him the best possible care. So proud of what that skinny little horse from Medellin has turned into. And so I am appealing for a little help in getting him to his retirement home, it will take around $500 to transport him to a well deserved rest and also a place where he gets to continue what he is so good at, working with children. If you can support in any way through the buy a bale link I would be forever grateful, and anybody that is good enough to help us out gets riding rights ….. if you are ever in Ecuador! (which I would highly recommend!) I have been hoping for a long time I could find the right home for him whist I return to the UK and feel extremely fortunate to have found the perfect place,

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Now we head back into the Andes for the final push through Ecuador and onto the finish line, hard to believe we are now over 5000kms and 8 months into the journey with just a few weeks left.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Harsh reality, injuries and an amazing group of children

So happy to reach volunteer location Ecuador but the first week has been marred with an injury to Red and an attempted murder

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Arriving into El Tambo and after making a connection with a wonderful American family running a school that offers education in a rural part of Ecuador I began volunteering here over a week ago. My days are spent teaching English and Maths in the morning and I use the afternoon to renovate the dilapidated boys bathroom.

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The children here are fantastic, a real eagerness to learn, arriving half an hour early to school and have to be forced to leave at the end of the day. The cost per child is $10 per month, this covered by donations that also pay for the staff and upkeep of this awesome facility. From what I have seen the level of education provided here is among the best of any volunteer project I have worked with, active for 10 years now, also played a huge part in helping the first person from this small village achieve a university degree.

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On Wednesday we went into the capital Quito, there I tutored English to several students, a great day but with sad news at the end as we learnt one of the students had been stabbed in a gang related incident, a reminder of the reality. This part is unbelievable, the man was presumed dead, taken to the morgue with 15 stab wounds but somehow was found alive by staff prior to processing.

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Thursday we were back into it and made some real progress with the renovations only to return to a very sad looking Red that would not come to my call. Making my way over I was told he had trampled the water supply to the home of the people with whom we are staying. Red had managed not only to demolish the water supply but had lacerated his chest and cut his legs badly in the process. Getting him to shelter I cleaned him up as best was possible and spent the night with him doing what possible to ease the pain. First thing in the morning hitching a ride to the nearest town I was able to pick up supplies from a veterinary store. We are way up in the Andes, no chance of getting a vet to my location without hundreds of dollars and so was forced to administer the antibiotic, anti inflammatory and pain killing injections myself, first time and remembering my training from Rancho Chilamate in Nicaragua all went well. Soon after Red returned to his favorite pass time of eating but still unable to walk. 3 days later now and there is a big improvement, 3 times daily treatment, lots of care and the wounds are slowly healing. The kind family even agreed to build a shelter in which to let him recover.

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And so it looks like another week or two of recovery before we can hit the trail but just happy the recovery is possible! Really was touch and go and reinforced how much this clumsy old horse means to me, there is nothing that will stop us completing this journey together. The extra time spent here means the opportunity to finish the bathroom project and help with the children in the lead up to exam week so making the most of the time and hoping for a fast recovery!

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A big thank you for the support through “buy a bale” was a huge help when needing medication and also for the support of this and all the great charities involved in this trip through the gofundme page.

Thank you for reading,

Marc

Footprints in the dirt

7 long days ago I left San Antonio and we continued the journey south. Even after what I have seen already could not have been prepaired for what was to come in this section.

Taking 2 days to rest and re-organise in San Antionio I was fortunate enough to have the use of a farm. Here I rested alone enjoying the peace and quiet with Red feeding in the field. A chance to wash the clothes, cook on a stove and not move a great deal! Looking over the maps I planned out the next few days with a little advice from Hernando, the owner of the farm. Only problem with my planned route was it happened to pass the home of a certain revolutionary group leader. Is ok I am told, just dont talk too much and pass quietly. I have no choice, 28 days to pass a border 500kms away there is no backtracking. After giving my thanks and loading up we were back moving. IMG_7850IMG_7766

I had opted to head over the mountains in a bid to make quick progress and avoid the road. The track was smooth for the first hour or so before again turning into just a footpath, dropping and rising 50 metres into ravines, the going got tough fast. I was passed by with the sun going down I asked where the nearest farm was – “ask the house at the top of the hill” as he rushed past. Soon I came to a river, wide, deep and no sign of where the path continued the other side. Knowing I had just been passed I looked for the footprints to lead me to the right path. So lucky I had been passed as would never have found the right track otherwise.

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I eventually arrived at the house on top of the hill and there was the guy that had passed me by, the people were expecting me which made me a little nervous. Inviting me in and letting me put Red in the field. Within 5 minutes I had a plate of food infront of me and was bombarded with questions, an incredibly nice family. The next day after a good nights rest Red and I were fed well, and helping to make ‘jugo de cana’ – sugar cane juice – I filled my canteen and carried on with the assistace of Elmer guiding me. There had been a lot of rainfall in recent days and so I had to change my route as the river was too strong to cross, adding a few miles but a safe track to follow.

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We continued South, Red getting stronger and stronger by the day, really cannot explain how strong the bond becomes, the trust in each others senses, you really are 4 ears and 4 eyes when travelling horseback. We pass small villages, staring faces watch as we roll through. Getting hungry and food running low I spotted a dairy farm, asking if could camp for the night and maybe help out in return for a safe spot for the night. The farm manager , Jose Victor was extremely welcoming and let me hang the hammock, rest and fill my cup with fresh milk whilst I helped out on the farm.

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The next day the air changed, the tension palpable. Even the normally reasuring silence felt odd. I had been told of a strange ambient, of bad things that had passed, this is usually nothing more than peoples imagination and tall stories but this occasion was right. Riding through the stunning mountains was something stopping me from enjoying the stunning countryside as much as usuall. Not wanting to be stuck for somewhere to spend the night I started looking early. After several closed doors I came to the home of Miriam, a lady that would not tell me her name until I gave mine, not let me passs until had been checked out by several family members. Eventually I was permited entry to their field. Stunning spot filled with fruit trees and horses. I pitched up and relaxed a little. With the sun going down I had my first visitor of the night, the usuall questions before he got to the point “are you military?” No I answer, just wanting to pass and enjoy this beautiful country. “But you have the same equipment as the military” pointing at my hammock. I explain my trip and without reaction my interrigator walks away. An hour or so later comes another, “are you on an excercise?” No sir, just wanting to pass quietly. And again, no reaction, dissapears back into the trees. At this point you cannot change location, is dark, late and you just have to hope that your answers were good enough. You dont really sleep and when you do is with your clothes on, kit tied to your leg. The sun eventually came, I packed up and moved. Although am confident there was never any danger is still an uneasy feeling that does not permit you to rest. I passed La Linea and within a few hours spirits lifted. Smiles were back and the sun was beaming.

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Over the next few days and nights we had many more encounters, some good, some bad and the extreme generosity of the Colombian people shining through. Feeding me when I needed it the most and helping with directions – one thing anybody that has travelled  Central or South America will know is that if asked for directions nobody says “sorry, I dont know” Distances change from 1hr to noooo, not possible today.  My advice – take the middle number and carry on. By day 6 I was pretty exhausted and listening to directions though I was only 5hrs from a town where I could find a stable and rest in preperation for my next leg.Carying on on foot in order to let Red rest 5 hours turned to 6,7,8 and it was getting dark. The road tough going and flanked either side. to the right a 60 metre cliff face and to the left a 40 metre drop to the river below. No choice but to carry on. Over the last few days I have experienced the hardest, the most beautiful and most testing riding of my life. This section we were tired but no option but to carry on through. Pitch black and full cloud cover preventing any moonlight I had to aim for light, knowing dipping into a field was not possible we pushed on. As always although you dont like to count on it the amazing hospitality of the Colombian people shone through and was I was welcomed in by Ricardo and his wife, offereing me the chance to use their field until daybreak. Could not have come at a better time!

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I have to say thank you for all the support, messages and donations through the “buy a bale” not only does this keep us moving and motivated but gives a massive boost. Cannot thank you enough! I hope to rest for the next few days, let my horse recover before we head on, 21 days to make the border ……………